BARCELONA (Reuters) - Dutch teenager Max Verstappen’s long-term Formula One future is at Red Bull in a potential dream pairing with Australian Daniel Ricciardo, team principal Christian Horner said on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters at the Spanish Grand Prix, where 18-year-old Verstappen will debut for the team after being promoted from sister outfit Toro Rosso last week, Horner extolled the driver’s prospects.
“A Ricciardo-Verstappen line up for me is potentially one of the, if not THE, strongest pairing of future years,” he declared.
“Make no mistake about it, he’s one of the hottest prospects in Formula One,” he said of Verstappen, who made his F1 debut with Toro Rosso at 17 last year.
“I think this move also kills off the driver market regarding Red Bull drivers for the foreseeable future.”
Red Bull were dominant between 2010 and 2013, winning four driver’s and constructor’s titles in a row with Germany’s Sebastian Vettel.
Vettel moved to Ferrari at the end of 2014 but Red Bull’s fortunes had dived with the change from V8 engines to V6 hybrid power units.
With Renault showing signs of improvement, and hopes that the gaps between dominant Mercedes and the rest will narrow further next year when the rules change, Horner saw Verstappen as the future.
The Dutch driver has taken the place of Russian Daniil Kvyat, who returns to Toro Rosso — where he started in 2014.
Horner said the two would be paid the same as before, despite the swap, but he conceded that Verstappen’s contractual situation had changed.
“I’m not going to tell you what but, yes. He’s beyond any doubt committed to this team for multiple years,” said the principal.
“He’s demonstrated he’s got a great amount of natural talent, he can overtake, he can race... everything I’ve seen of his development so far has impressed me enormously and I think that curve will continue.”
Horner said Verstappen had also shown the “absolute desire burning within him” and he could now be measured against one of the best.
“The way Daniel’s driving at the moment, I don’t believe there’s a better driver in Formula One than Daniel,” he said of the Australian. “The thought of the pairing is fantastically exciting for us.”
Horner said Kvyat’s demotion could be seen as harsh but Red Bull had not given up on him.
“If we didn’t believe in him as a talent, he wouldn’t have been retained,” he said.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar